And UofL coach Rick Pitino told anyone who would listen prior to Wednesday night's game against Notre Dame that the Fighting Irish would be a formidable foe, even without Harangody, the team's All-American forward.
But the Cardinals had just enough stamina and Samardo Samuels to overcome the Irish 91-89 in a thrilling double-overtime win in front of 19,623 fans at Freedom Hall, in the Cards' third-to-last game here.
"In this league, or any league, there's always a team you have great difficulty with and Notre Dame is our team," said Pitino, whose team continued to solidify its case for an NCAA Tournament bid. "I told everyone at UofL, 'We're going to have a difficult time with this team...(But) our guys down the stretch were just phenomenal, with the game on the line they could've folded about five times and they didn't do it."
Without the 6-foot-8, 246-pound Harangody, who averages 24.1 points and 10 rebounds per game, inside the 6-9, 260-pound Samuels dominated. He scored a career-high 36 points, making 10 of 19 shots (most from within 5-feet) and 16 of 19 free throws, in 45 minutes. His two free throws with 1 minute, 11 seconds to play were the difference.
"He was a warrior tonight, he played gigantic," Pitino said. "He worked his tail off. Obviously we had an advantage and wanted to wear them out. We weren't going to stop going inside. Every play we were running was going through him. If we were going to get something it was going to be from him. We got blown out last year because they give you jump shots. We were not going to deviate from our offense tonight. If we were going to lose, it wasn't because we deviated from going inside."
Samuels, who scored only eight points in the Cards' upset of Syracuse on Sunday, was the focal point of the Cards' offense all night long. Four Fighting Irish players fouled out trying to guard him.
"He's an animal," said senior guard Edgar Sosa, who added 12 points and four assists. "He's a workhorse, we see this every day in practice."
"I was like, ‘We're going to get this win,'" said Samuels, who played all but one minute of the second half and the two extra sessions. "Nobody was going to stop me today."
Samuels scored UofL's first four points to set the tone early. He had 12 points in 16 first-half minutes and was a big reason why the Cards shot 53.8 percent (14 for 26) in the first 20 minutes and led 37-36.
"Our game plan was for them not to light us up from the outside," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "We will let them have Samuels' two-point shots. We didn't want them to beat us from behind the arc."
The Irish kept the game close, though, with their three-point shooting. Notre Dame made 10 of 24 shots (41.7 percent) from long range, including 6 of 15 in the first half.
Tory Jackson's three 1:53 into the second half gave the Fighting Irish a 41-39 lead, their first since midway through the first half.
The two teams went back-and-forth for the remainder of regulation - as neither led by more than three points. Mike Broghammer's lone basket of the game, with 1:32 to play, gave Notre Dame a three-point lead (67-64). But after Ben Hansbrough, who scored 21 points, missed a pair of free throws for the Irish with 1:14 remaining UofL tied the game. In fact the Cards had a chance to win the game.
However after Samuels hit two foul shots with 57.1 seconds to play, junior guard Preston Knowles was fouled with 28.6 seconds remaining. Knowles, who came into the game shooting 90.9 percent from the free throw line, hit just 1 of 2 Then in overtime it looked like the Irish (17-10, 6-8) were going to outlast Louisville as they quickly built a seven-point lead (74-67). However Reginald Delk's four-point play, after he was fouled while making a three, turned the tide toward the Cards.
"It was tremendous," Pitino said of the shot and subsequent free throw, which were Delk's only points of the night.
Junior forward Tim Abromaitis, who led Notre Dame with 29 points, hit a three with 54 seconds left in overtime to give the Irish a 79-77 lead.However Samuels hit a pair of foul shots with 39.5 seconds remaining to tie the game.
After the Irish missed a final shot attempt Sosa narrowly misfired on a double-clutch half-court heave at the buzzer as the game went into double overtime.
Jared Swopshire, who added 12 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots, hit a three 44 seconds into the second extra session to give UofL an 82-79 lead. Notre Dame eventually took the lead back on Jackson's reverse with 2:36 to play, but Jerry Smith answered with a three - his only field goal of the game - to give the Cards an 87-85 lead.
Abromaitis answered with a basket then Samuels and Hansbrough added a pair of free throws apiece before Samuels hit the eventual game-winning foul shots.
The Irish had a chance to tie, or even win the game with a three, but after a timeout with 11 seconds to play they never got off a final shot.
The Cards next play at DePaul on Saturday.
"We needed four out of six (to make the tournament), and now we need three out of five," Pitino said. "We have a great attitude. We're working real hard at it. This is not one of my better defensive teams I've coached since I've been here. With that being said, with the game on the line they could have folded about five times. Down seven they could have folded, but they didn't do it."